Fifty years on, readers reminisce with a young black girl who recalls how black sanitation workers launched a movement for equal rights and safer working conditions and stayed committed to justice amid tragic loss.
Basing her story on the true accounts of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, Duncan creates 9-year-old Lorraine Jackson to tell the full story of the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968. The story begins not with the entrance of Martin Luther King, who would arrive in March, but in January, when the tragic deaths of two black garbagemen due to old, malfunctioning equipment added to calls for change. The author’s choice to not focus on the singular efforts of King but on the dedicated efforts of community signals a deeply important lesson for young readers. Strong historical details back up the organizing feat: “In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.” The narrative is set in vignettes that jump between verse and prose, set against Christie’s bold paintings. Lorraine learns that “Dreamers never quit” after reminiscing on what would be Dr. King’s final lecture, delivered on April 3. The struggle doesn’t end with King’s death but continues with the spotlight cast by Coretta Scott King on the sanitation workers’ demands. “Freedom is never free,” Lorraine notes before closing with the thought that it remains our mission to “Climb up the MOUNTAINTOP!”
Encapsulates the bravery, intrigue, and compassion that defined a generation, presenting a history that everyone should know: required and inspired. (Picture book. 9-12)